December 26, 2005
The choice of angerBy Thomas Lifson
The Democrats have built a mythology around the 2000 Presidential election, as Richard Baehr convincingly demonstrates in today's American Thinker. The energy generated by the resulting anger has been a prize sought by party officials and candidates alike. But like the thrill brought on by amphetamines or other nervous system stimulants, the short term surge comes at the cost of longer term damage to health.
Anger has become the fashionable political mood in America's faculty lounges, big city newsrooms, and best—attended Democratic political events. Howard Dean, the former governor of one of America's smallest states, has propelled his candidacy to a commanding position, financially and in the public opinion polls, based largely on his superior skill at articulating and embodying the fury which has gripped a substantial fraction of core Democrat activists.Anger is a terrific motivator. Angry people contribute money, go to events, wear buttons, t—shirts, and funny hats, and readily slap bumper stickers on their Volvos, Beetles, mini—vans, and Lexuses. They enjoy meeting and spending time with others who are in tune with their particular emotional orientation. Some even find that sharing outrage can lead to sharing other passions, via computer dating services linked to the Dean campaign.
But anger has many drawbacks as the basis for an American political movement. Americans tend to favor optimism and a sunny disposition in their political leadership. Ours is a nation built on the pursuit of happiness as an inalienable right granted us by our Creator. More than two hundred years after this right was articulated in the Declaration of Independence, Ronald Reagan won overwhelming electoral support running on the slogan 'Morning in America.'
Let the Balkan peoples define themselves by their ancient wrongs waiting to be avenged. Let clans like the Hatfields and McCoys in the hollows of West Virginia carry their grudges for generations. They are the curious exception to our general rule of concentrating on what we can become, rather than what our ancestors were. Americans take seriously their birthright, and would rather wipe the slate clean than nurture a collective grudge. Anger is like an acid which curdles the sweet mother's milk of happiness, whose pursuit is so much a part of our national character.
Of course, there are some who do choose to define themselves by their ancestors' tragedies, and whose vision of a world put right consists of extracting vengeance of some sort. Most prominently, the movement to collect reparations for slavery, payable 150 years later to the presumptive descendents of slaves, is being touted as a path to cosmic justice. But even its most fervent proponents do not foresee the public ever using the democratic process to enact a reparations law. Rather, litigation, giving the judiciary the opportunity to impose reparations on parties found somehow liable for the damages incurred in the past, is the primary tactic being employed.
Aside from its limited electoral appeal, anger is operationally a tricky, even dangerous force to harness. 'Blind anger' is a common expression precisely because anger tends to render its carriers insensible to the complexities and subtleties of their environment. Particularly when the angry gather together, their anger feeds on itself and multiplies its force. It is precisely for this reason that mobs are recognized as dangerous.
Even if the shared anger is nonviolent, it still is capable of blinding the angry to the probable reactions of others. Convinced of their utter righteousness, seriously angry political movements readily overplay the cards they are dealt. Haters of Bill Clinton learned the hard way that the middle/majority of Americans could not be mobilized to share their passion, even when they held an ace, in the form of their enemy's false testimony under oath.
Anger, held by the candidate and shared by his coterie and followers is the probable reason that Howard Dean has proven so gaffe—prone. He honestly does not seem to understand how most people will react to his assertion that Osama bin Laden is innocent until proven guilty, and nobody around him can caution him to watch his step. The rage which brings them together also precludes them from seeing its dangers. Of course, Dean also seems to have a problem with talking before thinking, and acting on impulse is another characteristic of the angry.
Anger requires an object. There must be someone or some group at which the anger is directed. By its nature, therefore, anger divides people. If the object of the anger is external to the nation, then anger can unite a people, as it has such nations as the Greeks, Koreans, and Poles. But if the object is internal to a nation, then schism, a rejection of the 'we the people...' ethos, rears its head.
In George W. Bush, a large segment of the American intelligentsia has found an object wholly outside their framework of affection. People who obtained their status and income partially from the ability to speak articulately, and master a body of learning, find it troubling when one who gives no evidence of even caring about reading books and newspapers, or developing a large vocabulary of eloquently—spoken words, rises above them in status. It is an insult to the personal values they have embraced, and on whose rightness their own sense of self—worth depends.
Even worse, George W. Bush shows no shame or guilt in his character. Rather than embrace his insecurities, and embark on a lifelong path of searching for relief via the therapeutic talking cures so common to the urban educated classes, George W. Bush embraced Jesus Christ, and appears to have been done with his personal demons — no more drinking, no more rebellious streak, no more troubling doubts.
George W. Bush incarnates a rejection of the very values, beliefs, skills, style, and psychology by which large numbers of America's educated class define themselves. Their self—concept is violated by his actions, his manner, his attitudes, and especially by his triumphs. If he is correct, then they are terribly, terribly wrong.
Charles Krauthammer, a psychiatrist by training and former practice, has coined the term 'Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS)' to be an affliction quite common today. He defines it as 'the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency—nay—the very existence of George W. Bush.' Dr. Krauthammer is better situated than I to diagnose paranoia as an outcome of rage at George W. Bush. But it is consistent with the behavior of other groups which have been animated by anger.
Paranoia is rarely the basis for successful political action. Reading far too much into the actions of their opponents, the paranoiacs dissipate their resources fighting unnecessary battles. Their readiness to assume others are against them creates enemies where neutrals or even friendlies are present. Paranoia is quite simply dysfunctional.
Should the Democrats nominate the angry Dr. Dean, they will find it very difficult to extricate themselves from the problem they will be creating for themselves. A crushing defeat may not only be likely, it may be beneficial in the long term.
Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.